Geoff Mann (Twelfth Night/Solo)

Live And Let Live gatefold shot

Those who’ve read Words and Music will know that there’s a whole chapter devoted to ‘God and the Devil’ in rock music. I spend some time there discussing the work and influence of Black Sabbath and Geoff Mann, and reach conclusions that might surprise some people.

While Sabbath have recently reformed and have over the years, courtesy mainly of Tony Iommi, continued to add to their oeuvre, Geoff left us at the age of just 36. However he left behind a significant, challenging and thought-provoking body of work that I still believe deserves much wider exposure.

The interview below was conducted way back in 1986, in the (nearly) daze of SMF – Southampton Metal Fanzine. Geoff had left Twelfth Night – still one of my favourite bands – and had embarked on a solo career. I was delighted when he agreed to do the interview, but the Fanzine never got off the ground, so the interview was never published.

Until, that is, I created the Words and Music website. Initially I offered it in the Bonus Material section as a thank you to those who had purchased the book. However, now that the Words and Music Q&A Series is up-and-running and picking up readers, this seems like a better place for it. (A slightly longer version is still available via the Bonus Material tab.)

Mannerisms - A Celebration of the Music of Geoff Mann - album coverI would encourage all rock fans, particularly those of an open-minded and progressive nature, to seek out and explore Geoff’s work. I’d particularly recommend Twelfth Night’s Fact and Fiction and Live And Let Live, his first two vinyl solo albums – I May Sing Grace and Psalm Enchanted Evening – and the tribute album Mannerisms. The latter features covers of his tracks by bands of the stature of IQ, Pallas, Pendragon, Galahad, Jadis and Twelfth Night, and provides ample demonstration of the esteem in which he was held by his peers. But that’s more than enough from me. Here’s the interview …

SMF: Why did you leave Twelfth Night?

GM: Because I felt I had to, for personal reasons as much as anything else – to be honest I don’t want to go through the answer to that anymore because it’s now a long time ago, or seems it to me. Yes, we are still friends, and no, I don’t regret it at all.

SMF: Our present understanding is that you found Christian principles irreconcilable with the adoration that would follow from your success as a musician. How do you respond to the suggestion that although your motives for leaving Twelfth Night were admirable, your lyrics will not now reach the audience they should?

GM: I never mentioned ‘Christian principles’ (someone else’s words). I didn’t want to put money above beliefs, certainly, and felt confused as to my own motives in seeking success – certainly it made me aware of how limited my understanding of Christ was, not to mention my experience of this power in my life. There’s no audience in need of me and my work, unless God makes it so – it’s more important for me, and anyone I play to, that I know what I’m doing and why as far as possible.

SMF: Can you tell us about your plays? Do they deal with the same themes as your Twelfth Night lyrics did, or are they more directly religious?

Review of Geoff Mann's 'A Convenient Day'GM: My plays – right … ‘Sydney’s Armchair’ is a surreal living room drama about nostalgia and decision-making – sort of black comedy, I guess. It hasn’t been performed by anyone yet. The trilogy of plays I wrote for ‘Sola Energy’ at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1985 was called ‘Crossed Paths’. The plays were based on the time of Christ’s ministry, incidents and characters apart from Christ Himself, vis: John the Baptist / Herod / Herodias / Mary / Magdalene / Nicodemus / plotting priests / Satan/ Judas / Priests / Pilate etc. They were concerned with reactions to the turmoil that Christ caused in the hearts and minds of those in Israel. I tried to give the characters a modern slant in the psychology of that time, more modern language and mannerisms – rather than giving history an up-to-date slant, I did it the other way round. The reception was mainly very positive, both in Edinburgh and London. The first play of the trilogy, ‘A Convenient Day’, was performed in London by ‘Three’s Company’ at the Latchmore Theatre. I have no plans to write any in the next few months, not without a commission anyway!

The plays are not ‘religious’, if by ‘religious’ you mean ‘not primarily drama’. As an extension of my work with Twelfth Night, well I suppose my concerns in work don’t really change, as what I’m concerned with are very fundamental themes – life, death, freedom, responsibility … love, hate … you know, the usual stuff.

SMF: Do you think that there is a big difference in the sort of audience you will reach in the theatre and the audience at gigs or the kind of audience that will listen to your records? Which is more impressionable?

GM: Dunno. I think different arts influence people in very different ways – although rock/pop etc. does generally reach a younger audience, and they tend to be more easily led.

SMF: What sort of link do you think should exist between religion, art and politics?

GM: My faith is my life, and I don’t see ‘religion’ as something which exists on a separate lane to ‘real life’. Whatever the norm is in some churches, you will find that Jesus calls us to a complete change of life. Basically I believe that all human life should be centred in God, and everything that does not take His will into account is less than it could and should be. (This also shows why we all need constant forgiveness, if you think about it; thank God it’s available.)

SMF: Do you think that there is a more particular need for Christian/loving lyrics in rock and roll? Did you see the Newsnight feature about the youth village in America that exists to protect teenagers from rock music?

Geoff Mann performing at Reading Rock 1983

Geoff performing at Reading Rock 1983

GM: Well, there’s certainly a great need for people to hear about the unending love that God has for us, as shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There’s a great need for Christians to get involved with everything that’s going on and live our faith, confident and glad in the spirit which Jesus gives to re-new our lives, because actions speak at least as loud as words! It’s important that people do what God wants them to do, and that depends upon their own relationship with Him through prayer, fellowship and the Bible. Writing ‘Jesus’ in every song doesn’t validate bad music – nor does great music with ungodly lyrics mean that that’s ok, either. ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’ has been an evil influence more often than not, I think, but no more than advertising (as a force for accelerating desire for material gain in society), TV, newspapers, science, religion, (often the same thing) … need I go on? This world is fallen (and is falling) from God, and only Jesus can save us. As for the village … well, I don’t believe it is realistic as a way of life, however sincere its motive or correct its basic inspiration. It’s good for all of us to have quiet and put the influence of outside forces into perspective, regularly too. I’m not very interested in ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’; I’m trying to come to terms with music where I find myself, to prise the truth out of the mush.

SMF: On the music front, is the new album out yet? Is it musically similar to I May Sing Grace, or has there been a progression? The track listing – Creation, Dance, Gethsemane, Waves, Peacemeal, Flowers – suggests it might be a conceptual piece. Is it?

Psalm Enchanted Evening coverGM: It’s out on my own Wobbly Records label (WOB001). I’m very pleased with the material. I think it’s different to ‘… Grace’ – there’s certainly been a progression in the actual recorded sound of the album. As for the music, it’s moved somewhere or other! It only features one other musician mostly, Dave Mortimer on ghastly green Gibson guitar etc., although there is some added bass guitar courtesy of the engineer, Steve Millie. The instrumentation on the album is lots of guitars with many and varied treatments, synth, emulator ‘Linn’ drums – and vocals, naturally! There is no particular ‘concept’, not deliberately anyway. Much of the basic work on the album is improvised.

SMF: We read it was finished last February – why the delay in release?

GM: Severe lack of funds, basically.

SMF: You’ve played some strange gigs. Presumably you went down well with the Pendragon, Lahost and Pallas crowds, and at the Marquee, but what were the Six-String Whiplash and [anarcho-punk band] Icons of Filth gigs like?

GM: Most of my gigs are pretty strange. Certainly when I play solo I find that there is no guarantee that supporting a ‘proggy’ type band means instant success by any means. The Six-String Whiplash gig was an odd one; the people at the gig let me know they didn’t think much of it. The Icons of Filth and their audience were supportive and encouraging!

SMF: Will you be touring in the future?

GM: My new band is called The Bond, and yes, there will be plenty of gigs coming up. We do have a gig at the Marquee in May – Sunday 11 May in fact – but we’re looking for lots of ‘em. We’re doing some gigs around Manchester. We did a free gig the other day – I hope we’ll be able to do some more of those.

In the course of the interview we asked Geoff one or two questions about other bands and artists. He declined to answer, offering the following explanation.

GM: Forgive my not answering your questions on other bands. It’s purely that I don’t want to appear to single anyone out for criticism as there is very little that I can honestly say I think is really very useful/helpful in terms of rock lyrics and so on. But many things do, none the less, have some virtue. Fish, I think, is trying to be very honest about his feelings. The Icons are very properly aware of much injustice and hypocrisy in ‘the system’ … but it is my sincere belief that the prime of all ills in the world is human sin, that it has become our nature to sin, and that only Jesus has the power to forgive us our sin and start putting it to death in our lives.

I listen to music and enjoy/reject etc., taking it as it is. Some things, by nearly all artists, I find quite impossible to take – but there are really few artists who I can’t find something of worth in. (Sometimes all of that I find of myself!)

Geoff on stage with Twelfth Night at Reading 1983

Geoff on stage with Twelfth Night at Reading 1983

Opening photograph – Twelfth Night Live and Let Live gatefold shot – by Nick Powell

Reading Rock photographs by Mark Hughes

To find out more about Geoff Mann, please visit the official Geoff Mann website.

The albums Geoff recorded with Twelfth Night are available from the official Twelfth Night website.

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